Demand surges for counselling services as lockdown fuels gambling addiction

Counselling services for those seeking help with online gambling habits say they are experiencing an increase in demand as coronavirus lockdowns fuel addictions.

Many people are turning to unregulated online gambling during coronavirus.

Many people are turning to unregulated online gambling during coronavirus. Source: AP

Gambling counselling services say they are seeing an increase in demand, despite clubs and casinos being closed due to the coronavirus.

Cairnmillar Institute clinical services director Mandy Taylor told SBS News they were seeing new clients who didn’t fit the traditional cohort of problem gamblers.

“Well we are certainly seeing an increase in the presentations for gambling and of course it is online gambling,” she said.

“We are finding we are getting a cohort of people who might have been more social gamblers in the past, but with working at home and increased stress there is actually a bit of a change in behaviour,”.

According to data collected by analytics consultancy AlphaBeta and credit firm Illion, online gambling has grown rapidly during the COVID-19 lockdown.

There was a 67 percent increase in online gambling during the first week of clubs and casinos being closed due to the coronavirus lockdown alone.

While some horse racing and greyhound racing continues in Australia, Ms Taylor said online gamblers were increasingly turning to online casinos and games that mimic the effect of poker machines.

Online gambling does not have the same controls and restrictions that some land-based gambling venues do, such as a ban on credit cards, betting and withdrawal limits and the option of self-exclusion orders.

The online gambling space is not regulated in Australia.
The online gambling space is not regulated in Australia. Source: AAP

“Of course it’s not restricted, so they can max out a credit card where they couldn’t if they had gone to a pokie venue in Australia,” she said.

One client Ms Taylor spoke of said they only realised they had a gambling problem when their wife went to buy groceries and found they credit card had been maxed out.

“He never would have considered himself a gambler, but he lost track of what was happening with his credit card. Without limits on credit cards and things like that, which there isn’t in the online world, we see people caught unaware about how much they have gambled,” she said.

To cope with the surge in demand, the Cairmiller Institute is offering free online telehealth sessions for those with gambling problems.

Ms Taylor, who has worked as a psychologist for more than 20 years, said that without support more people would continue experiencing increased rates of gambling harm during the pandemic.

“People gamble more when times are really good, and they also gamble more when times are really bad. When they have no income and they are really desperate for money, in terms of financial hardship in the community, we are really seeing that align with problem gambling right now,” she said.

Readers seeking assistance can contact the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at 

3 min read
Published 9 May 2020 at 11:33am
By Jarni Blakkarly